China, Islam and the Middle Way Forward — Rais Hussin

JANUARY 9 — Some news streaming out from China, especially those pertaining to Islam, have been nothing short of scandalous. The news are not coming from Radio Free China, which is sponsored by the United States (US) but Al Jazeera, a news broadcasting station that has never seen China in an adversarial light.

Another source of news coming from Reuters, suggesting a slower pace to re-educate the Uyghur Muslims in China, is no less discouraging.

With or without the complete knowledge of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the civilisation that once conceived the concept of “the Middle Way,” or “Chung Yung,” as Professor Tu Wei Ming at Yenching Academy called it, appears to be bent on transforming all else not totally compatible (in form, substance and spirit) to “China,” to what the CCP demands.

This is where China has to tread carefully. The Belt and Road Initiative has some 68 countries on board, of which close to 1/3 are predominantly Muslim in demography. 

Be it Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, Qatar, or, Turkey, none of these countries – with or without a completely functional democracy – want to pick a fight with China, period. Take Malaysia’s attitude towards China after the historic electoral victory on May 9, 2018.

While Malaysia may have suspended the East Coast Railway Project, on the justifiable ground that Putrajaya cannot possibly afford a project that is RM55 billion in cost, the administration of Pakatan Harapan has not been wildly anti China.

Even with the exposure of the Wall Street Journal that some projects were manufactured by state owned companies in China, potentially to bail out 1MDB, the mood in the streets of Malaysia remain largely calm.

What more can China expect from the likes of Malaysia and many Muslim countries ? None. If anything, China should be taking Islam, not as a religion per se, but an entire civilization with which it has to co-exist forever.

Indeed, the co existence can benefit China almost instantly too. In 1992, in an infamous article, called “The Clash of Civilizations,” which appeared in the Foreign Affairs, the late Professor Samuel Huntington spoke of a “Confucian Islamic” axis.

In other words, there will come a day when the Muslim world and the Sinic world led by China, will combine their fury and ferocity, in both halves of the world in West Asia and East Asia, to turn the barrels of their guns – and turrets, perhaps bayonets too - against the West, especially the United States. Huntington, in his book on the same name, expanded this notion further by justifying that the West has every right to rule over the entire world, even if the West is a minority, since the White Anglo Saxon Protestants (WASP) has created all forms of democratic orders and freedoms. Thus the West shall rule over the rest.

The notion that the West is always the “best,” is but an Orientalist notion that only it – and it alone – can define, deconstruct, and destroy all others in any way it sees fit.

China is an Oriental power. It is also a self acclaimed Middle Kingdom. But China has good scholars like Pan Guan who knows that not all Islam or Muslims in China are pro “separatism, splittism, or secessionism.” Even the likes of Wang Jisi, the doyen of Sino US relations, believe that China and America can co exist.

If two behemoths can co exist, a vast expanse from Marrakesh to Mindanao, which is the Islamic world, can and must co-exist with China too. Close to USD 6 trillion of world trade goes into South China Sea each year.

Before the maritime-borne trade snakes its ways into the South China Sea, eventually reaching the coastline of Fujian, Ningbo and Shanghai, guess where did these goods originate?

They originate from choke points likes the Bosphorus Sea, Man Bij near the Gulf of Hormuz, the Indian Ocean, the Straits of Malacca, even the Sunda Sea in Indonesia. Even the Natuna Island, which is the North Natuna Sea, is the exact spot where a maritime blockade can happen if Sino Islamic relationship turns awfully horrid.

It was Saidinna Saad Ibn Al Waqaas, a friend of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who many believed reached China first, establishing Islam as a sturdy and peaceful religion in China since the mid 7th century. It was Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch, who was trusted by the Emperor of the Ming Dynasty to explore the areas as far away as the coast of Africa which forms the maritime end point of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Be sensitive to Muslims. Be curious about Islam. In fact, the Middle Way should encourage China to study Islam and Muslims both as a culture and civilisation. But never, never, never, confront or try to change Islam into the template of socialism or Communism. For the Ummah is almost like a metaphorical beehive. When it is stirred and disturbed, it can and will transform into an angry group of hornets, who oddly enough, are not afraid to sacrifice themselves, not unlike the highly misguided suicide bombers. China is the epitome of wisdom. Even its foreign policy template under the late Deng Xiao Ping was based on “hiding it’s prowess and biding its time,” what scholars called “dao guang yang hui”. President Xi Jin Ping’s China Dream can be a beautiful dream of and for all. It does not have to become a ghastly spectacle that seeks to trash and thrust Muslims like some seals about to be flayed by a Killer Whale.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

Related Articles